Stop Energy Leaks, Gain Comfort

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Tompkins Weekly 1-5-15

By Sharon Anderson

Was the warmth of your holiday season dampened by cold drafts? If you felt a chill wind while hanging out at home with friends and family, take steps now to increase the comfort of your home and save on heating costs.

Houses leak air around doors, windows, chimneys, plumbing, vents and where different building materials meet. Warm, indoor air rises and leaves through the small openings in and around your roof. Cold, outside air is pulled in through the spaces around doors, windows and at the foundation. This movement causes the drafts that rob you of comfort and rob your wallet.

You can reduce the drafts by sealing air leaks with low-cost materials. The materials you will need is determined by the size and location of the leaks.

Caulk can fill gaps up to 3/8 inch and is particularly useful where different building materials meet, such as along a wall and the foundation. You’ll need different types of caulk for different places. Typically, acrylic (latex) caulk is for indoor projects and silicone caulk is for outdoor projects.

Foam sealants are commonly used to fill gaps of up to one inch. The two most common types are polyurethane and latex, both of which are available in cans at hardware and building supply stores. Ask a salesperson at a hardware or building supply store for help in choosing the right caulk or foam for the job.

Weather stripping eliminates gaps between movable parts when they are closed – around the perimeters of exterior doors and operable windows, for example. Weather stripping can be made of metal, foam, rubber, vinyl or felt and is often sold by the foot, or in pre-packaged window/door kits.

Electrical outlets and light switch cover plates are small openings that can let a surprising amount of cold air seep into your home. Seal these with inexpensive foam gaskets specially made to fit behind the cover plates.

Start at the Top!

Because warm air rises and pulls cold air in behind it, start by closing gaps between your roof or attic and the living space below. Check around electrical wires, light fixtures, chimneys, stove flues, ductwork and plumbing vent pipes. If there is no floor in the attic, lay boards on top of the joists to walk along, because the ceiling won’t support your weight. Wear a dust mask and gloves if you have to roll insulation back to look for leaks. Dirty spots on your insulation will generally indicate an air leak. Stop the leak with the right material for the size opening. Use heat-resistant caulk for small gaps around chimneys and stove flues and add a sheet metal collar to seal larger openings. If in doubt, call in a professional.

Treat the attic hatch as an exterior door; make sure it is insulated and apply weatherstripping around it.

Tackle the Low Spots

Seal the places where cold air can get in between your living space and unheated basement or crawl space, using the same methods and materials.

Make sure windows are tightly closed and locked. Buy a window insulation kit that contains clear plastic film for the inside of a window. Use a hair blow dryer to shrink the special plastic, creating a tight fit that is an effective barrier to air movement without spoiling the view.

Buy an inexpensive door sweep or roll up towels to block the draft under exterior doors. If the door leaks around the entire frame, install foam weatherstripping. On the unhinged side of the door, apply the weatherstripping to the front face of the door stop, beginning at the bottom and applying in one continuous strip. Apply another continuous strip along the top of the door stop, making sure the weatherstripping meets tightly at the corners. On the hinged side, apply the weatherstripping on the door jamb.

Seal basement doors and windows. Seal holes around water pipes and plumbing fixtures.

Most homeowners in NYS qualify for a free or low-cost home energy assessment, which can qualify you for financial assistance for more extensive work than you can do yourself. During the assessment, a certified energy efficiency contractor will evaluate the insulation levels and determine the efficiency of heating systems, household appliances, and lighting. After an assessment, you will know where your house is losing energy and what cost-effective improvements are recommended.  Visit to learn more about home energy assessments. Contact Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County at 607-272-2292 if you want more information about energy assessments or the application process.

Sharon Anderson is Environment Program Leader at Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

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